By Charlene Dean
After what Amargosa Opera House Director Rich Regnell called a “struggling performance” last Sunday, Marta Becket has decided it’s time to leave her stage performances to concentrate on her art and oversee the non-profit organization created to preserve the opera house.
Becket turned 87 last year and had plans to debut another “sitting-down show” called “Life is a Three-Ring Circus” on Feb. 12, which is the date marking 45 years of performing at the opera house. Instead, Regnell said it will be Becket’s last appearance on stage followed by an anniversary celebration and a retirement party. All shows until that date have been canceled.
Becket has been dealing with health issues over the past several years and after recovering from a broken hip, she has performed her characters in the Sunday matinees sitting down.
Many stories have been written over the period Marta Becket has been at the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction.
She’s been called a diva and Queen of the Desert, she’s been reviewed in local and national papers, books and magazines, and revered by the people who know her and have seen her perform. Her fame has spread far beyond the boundaries of Southern Nevada.
Becket, originally from New York City, became stranded by a flat tire at the opera house, called Corkhill Hall, in 1967. She decided to take a chance on the dusty outpost and transformed the abandoned building that no one wanted into the work of art and registered historical marker it is today.
With the Amargosa Opera House, she started from the floor up, with the help of her then-husband Tom Williams, building the stage and performing construction fixes to the run-down property.
When the stage was complete, Becket began to dance, but audiences were slim. Not to be outdone, and talented as Becket is, she created her own audience in murals on the walls. When she performed, she was seen by her own creations — royalty, bullfighters, monks, cherubs, Native Americans, dancers, musicians and her two cats — even when no one else was watching.
It took Becket four years to complete the walls and another two to complete the ceiling murals.
A marble statue stands against the west wall of the opera house. The stone figure holds a Latin scroll that reads, “The walls of this theatre and I, dedicate these murals to the past, without which our times would have no beauty.”
In 1974, Becket started the nonprofit Amargosa Opera House Inc., to continue preservation of the property.
Through Becket’s efforts, Death Valley Junction, which is owned by the nonprofit and contains the opera house, is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The official marker was placed in 1983.
In 2005, Stephens Media, owner of the Pahrump Valley Times, published Becket’s autobiography, “To Dance on Sands.” When she announced its release as an end to one of her performances, the lobby was packed with 125 people wanting autographed copies.
Regnell said since Becket’s decision to leave the stage, she has been in good spirits and her appetite has returned.
“She’s ready for this,” Regnell said. “It’s time.”
Regnell said discussing Becket’s retirement with her was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
Becket’s last performance, scheduled for 2 p.m. on Feb. 12, will sell out quickly. The doors will open at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $15, and can be purchased online at amargosaoperahouse.com or by calling 760-852-4441.
After Becket’s final performance, there are plans for a fundraiser dinner. Regnell said he is looking into securing a 72-hour liquor permit so alcohol can be served at the celebration. Entrees will start at $17.95. Other festivities will mark the occasion as well.
Regnell said plans for the celebration aren’t complete.
“This was an unexpected turn of events, so we’re just now starting to organize.”
Becket told the PVT last August that, “Rich and Mary (Regnell’s wife) will continue my dream. They promised to continue everything. There will still be tours and they will invite other artists of the caliber I desire to perform here; it must remain classical … The opera house is a sanctuary for the past.”